Friday, March 18, 2011

How networking made some legendary movie roles ... well, legendary

(Note: This is a repost of my guest article for Kathy Bernard's Get a Job! blog.)

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” goes the old Hollywood cliché. But in job seeking, what’s true in La-La Land is true for the rest of us.

“Who you know” means building relationships and connections with people to help your name come up when an opportunity’s available -- really, that’s all networking is. And if you’ve been neglecting your network in your job search, take a look at some iconic movie roles and stars who made their careers from them, and see how networking landed them the part and created movie legends.

·     The producers of the 1970 WWII epic Patton first offered the eponymous lead to actor Robert Mitchum. Mitchum loved the script, and knew it would be a success with the right actor in the lead – which he also knew wasn’t him. He told the producers they’d need an actor passionate enough to fight to pull the focus from all the spectacle and keep it on his character, and recommended the producers talk to George C. Scott. And for his work in the film, Scott ended up winning an Oscar.

·     When casting1968’s Dirty Harry, the producers’ first choice for the role was . . . Frank Sinatra. Sinatra turned it down, and the part was offered to John Wayne and then Steve McQueen, who both passed as well. When Paul Newman rejected it, though, he suggested they contact a younger up-and-comer he knew and thought would be perfect in the role: Clint Eastwood, who not only made Dirty Harry his own, but returned to it in four blockbuster sequels over the next twenty years.

·     After Robert Vaughn was cast as Lee in John Sturges’ soon-to-be classic western The Magnificent Seven, actor Sterling Hayden dropped out of the project, leaving Sturges with a sudden hole to fill in his roster of gunfighters. Vaughn immediately thought of his good friend from college who was a huge fan of the The Seven Samurai (the Japanese original they were remaking), and suggested him to the director. The result: James Coburn won the role of Lee, the knife expert, with the added bonus that the character he’d get to portray was the American version of Kyuzo, his favorite character from the original. Coburn and Vaughn remained lifelong friends and often helped each other get parts, but this was the only movie they made together.

So the lesson here? These were all landmark roles, characters that defined and propelled these actors’ careers, and none of them were won by open audition or talent agent finagling, but by friends and colleagues who respected them and their work and recommended them to the right people at the right time.

That’s networking -- getting the people you know to help you into the positions they know of, allowing you to leverage their existing connection to a decision-maker to land a job.

How different would those movies be if Mitchum or Newman or Vaughn hadn’t had anyone to suggest for those parts? How different could your career be if you had someone to suggest you for the next great job that comes open? So get to work on your network -- like they say, it’s who you know.

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